Relationship Building as a Business Banker: An Interview with Samantha McElhaney, Pinnacle Financial Partners
How do you build your brand and your book of business as a business banker when you don’t control your pricing, your reputation is tied up with your employer (which might or might not be helpful), and you work for a publicly traded company with quarter-to-quarter earnings pressure? On this episode of The Price and Value Journey, host John Ray spoke with Samantha McElhaney of Pinnacle Financial Partners. Sam discussed why she’s remained in banking her entire career, how she operates with an abundance mindset and a “relationship first” philosophy, how she handles mistakes and errors, developing trusted strategic referral partners and other referral sources, her philosophy of networking, success stories, and much more.
Note from Host John Ray:
We’ve recently expanded our guest focus to professional services providers who do not have their own solo or small professional services firms. They have something to teach those of us who operate independently, because they work with handicaps those of us who own our own businesses don’t have.
In this vein, we recently chatted with Steve Aleksandrowicz, a Medicare insurance broker who built a book of business in an extremely competitive space without a website, no advertising, in an industry dominated by major companies.
I wanted to feature a business and/or personal banker who had built their client base and reputation by a focus on relationships. Business bankers are not in control of their pricing, they are somewhat captive to the reputation of their institution, which may or may not be as good as their own reputation, and they work for publicly traded companies who have quarter to quarter earnings pressure.
I knew who I thought was the ideal professional to invite, but I decided to ask around among a few trusted members of my network. Everyone I asked confirmed my choice, the guest for this episode, Samantha McElhaney.
It’s a great conversation….enjoy!
Samantha McElhaney, Commercial Financial Advisor/Senior Vice President, Pinnacle Financial Partners
Samantha McElhaney is a Commercial Financial Advisor and Senior Vice President with Pinnacle Financial Partners.
She is a single mom of twins at the University of Alabama and the University of South Carolina, respectively. She has been in financial services for 28 years, starting as a teller while in college.
Sam loves lighthouses because they provide hope in the darkness/storms of life and admits she is extremely hard on herself. She leads and participates in small groups at North Point Community Church and Woodstock City Church because her faith is extremely important to her personally and professionally.
Sam’s favorite time of the year is college football season. She’s always ready for fall, food, and “fandemonium.”
Pinnacle Financial Partners
The Pinnacle approach is a very people-centric one. It takes an unwavering focus and commitment of leadership to make it work.
The same five key business strategies Pinnacle has employed since its inception shape our focus today: Focus on businesses, real estate professionals, and consumers that desire a deep relationship with their financial partner. Provide distinctive service and effective advice. Hire and retain highly experienced and qualified financial services professionals. Offer a full line of financial services including banking, investments, mortgage, trust, insurance, and financial planning. Offer extraordinary convenience.
Pinnacle is much more than a bank. It’s a place for people to find true partners for their business. It’s a place where seasoned professionals give clients unmatched service and advice that improves their financial well-being. And it’s a place where people love coming to work every day.
John Ray: [00:00:00] And hello again, I’m John Ray on The Price and Value Journey. We’ve recently shifted our guest focus to professional services providers who do not have their own solo or small professional services firms, but they have something to teach us who do. Those of us who operate independently because these professionals work with issues and concerns that those of us who have our own businesses, we don’t have.
We recently chatted with Steve Aleksandrowicz. He’s a Medicare insurance broker who’s built a book of business over 12 years in a very competitive space without a website, no advertising, and in an industry dominated by major companies. Check out the show archive for that episode if you missed it.
I wanted to feature a business and or personal banker who had built their client base and reputation by focusing on relationships. And here’s why I wanted to talk to a business banker. They are not in control of their pricing, which makes chills run up my spine, as you might imagine. And they are somewhat captive to the reputation of their institution, which may or may not be as good as their own. And they work for publicly traded companies who have quarter to quarter earnings pressure.
I knew who I thought was the ideal professional to invite, but I decided to ask around among a few trusted members of my network, and everyone agreed with the first thought that came to my mind. The guest that I have here with me today, Samantha McElhaney.
Sam is a commercial financial advisor, senior vice president with Pinnacle Financial Partners. She’s been in the banking industry for 28 years and almost all of that time as a business banker.
Maybe the best way to introduce Sam is what she says about herself on LinkedIn in her profile. She says that for 28 years in the financial services industry, my number one priority has been to connect the right people together in order to pay it forward. By placing my clients’ needs first, I am gaining their trust and becoming a more important part of their overall team.
Quite well said. Sam McElhaney, thank you so much for coming on Price and Value Journey.
Samantha McElhaney: [00:02:29] Thank you, John.
John Ray: [00:02:30] Yeah, thank you so much. So give everyone a brief overview of you and your banking career and maybe explain why banking for you.
Samantha McElhaney: [00:02:41] I actually started in banking as a teller in college. It was the perfect job while going to school in Memphis, Tennessee Rhodes College. A lot of people assume, I went to the University of Alabama.
John Ray: [00:02:56] A great school by the way, Rhodes College.
Samantha McElhaney: [00:02:58] Yes, it is. Go Lynx. But I did receive a scholarship to Alabama, but chose academics over athletics.
John Ray: [00:03:07] Were you an athlete?
Samantha McElhaney: [00:03:08] I was. I played softball.
John Ray: [00:03:09] Really?
Samantha McElhaney: [00:03:10] Yeah.
John Ray: [00:03:10] Okay. See, I just learned something about you. Wow. Cool.
Samantha McElhaney: [00:03:14] But chose academics and went to Rhodes. And actually, majored in history. And I’m supposed to be a teacher, high school history teacher. But you probably don’t want me in your classroom with my OCD behavior.
But after doing my student teaching while also working my full-time job at Union Planters Bank in Memphis, I went into the management training program. And upon graduation, chose to stay with Union Planters and become a branch manager at the naive age of 21 instead of teaching in Memphis, Tennessee.
So my career in banking started that way. And also influenced very heavily by my manager at the time who is still in banking. He’s in the mortgage industry in Nashville, Tennessee. As well as my assistant manager at the time, who is also my best friend of almost 30 years, and she’s in Illinois and the banking industry as well. So pretty well connected there.
John Ray: [00:04:18] What are their names? Let’s shout them out.
Samantha McElhaney: [00:04:19] Yeah. Jeff Devereaux with Studio Bank up in Nashville, and Kara Ferguson who’s in a bank up in Illinois that has changed names several times because she’s in community banking.
John Ray: [00:04:30] Got it. Got it. So, Jeff and Kara.
Samantha McElhaney: [00:04:33] They’re the bomb.
John Ray: [00:04:34] Yeah. Yeah. Shout out to the two of you.
Samantha McElhaney: [00:04:36] Yes.
John Ray: [00:04:37] But you’re a little bit unusual, though, as are apparently Jeff and Kara, too.
Samantha McElhaney: [00:04:45] Yes.
John Ray: [00:04:45] In that you’ve stayed in banking because banking has, let’s say, spit out a whole lot of people over the last two and a half decades with all the merger activity in 2008 fun that everyone had in that time. Why have you stayed? And what’s made you successful?
Samantha McElhaney: [00:05:07] I probably have stayed because I became a mom, number one, in 2003. And every day, blessings, goes to make sure my kids get through college. They’re both in school right now. Number one, so I’ve got to get them through school.
But number two, I just love meeting business owners on a daily basis and hearing their dreams and what they want to accomplish. And I hope to be a part and become a part of their team and making those dreams happen.
One of my favorite shows on television is Shark Tank. And those entrepreneurs are those people on Shark Tank, and they are doing something that I wish I could have done or I could do, come up with that great idea. And so when I go visit them and hear their stories, I’m basically getting to live out Shark Tank and hopefully provide them with the funds that they need to fulfill their dreams. And when they do, and they tell me that I help them do that, it’s just an amazing feeling inside.
John Ray: [00:06:06] Yeah. Yeah. I want to come back to that but part of what’s happened in the banking industry over the last three or four decades, really, I mean it’s been going on for a while is, although it’s slowed down recently, it seems is just the constant formation of community banks. And some of them are built for sale, right?
Samantha McElhaney: [00:06:33] Yes.
John Ray: [00:06:34] But you’ve never, if I’ve got your resume right, you’ve never been enticed by that. And community banks sell themselves as being relationship oriented. You talk about being relationship oriented, but you’ve stayed at larger banks. Why is that?
Samantha McElhaney: [00:06:53] Well, I actually had technically a one day stint at a community bank. I left Fifth Third in 2018 and joined a small community bank here in town that was formerly Midtown Bank and became first Landmark. So it was technically considered a community bank. And then it started the whole merger process. And so over a period of four years, went through five different mergers.
John Ray: [00:07:23] Oh, dear.
Samantha McElhaney: [00:07:23] Which is the definition of community banking, because in order to fulfill the needs of its clients, over time, the only way to do so is to get larger and have capacity. And so merger after merger after merger happened. So that was a new experience for me in that world.
John Ray: [00:07:43] Okay. Okay. So you did do that.
Samantha McElhaney: [00:07:45] Just briefly.
John Ray: [00:07:46] Briefly. Yeah.
Samantha McElhaney: [00:07:47] Because it became, went from a community bank to what is now a large regional bank.
John Ray: [00:07:52] Right. Right. So what was that — how did that experience — how does that contrast between your time at larger banks in terms of your ability to deal with your customers in a relationship format? Was it better? Was it worse? About the same? Or was it what you made of it yourself? Talk about that.
Samantha McElhaney: [00:08:18] I honestly, having experienced both sides of the coin because I made great relationships and great friends in both scenarios. One of the reasons why I’m where I am today at Pinnacle with the large bank scenario, but I still am in contact with those smaller community bank, friends and partners. I just had lunch with a couple of them a few weeks ago and they do pride themselves on relationship style banking.
But it’s really not the name of the bank for customers, or at least it shouldn’t be. It should be the person that you’re banking with. And if you’re banking with a person and you know that person and that person knows what they’re doing within their institution, they should be able to navigate the waters within their institution and get to the people that they need to make decisions to get things and make things happen for you when it comes to products, when it comes to service, when it comes to getting answers, when it comes to getting requests through, when it comes to changing products, updating products.
For instance, if your online banking product doesn’t have a tool that you need, then that banker who’s representing you within that institution should be able to run that idea up the chain. And those changes should be able to be made within that online banking platform, because I’m sure you’re not the only person, John, who wants that change to be made. I’m sure others. You’re just the one voicing it.
John Ray: [00:09:48] What you’re describing is the role of you’re the facilitator.
Samantha McElhaney: [00:09:53] I like to say advocate.
John Ray: [00:09:54] Yeah, yeah, I like that better. Yeah.
Samantha McElhaney: [00:09:56] Yeah. That’s what — we call them advisors at Pinnacle. I like to say advocate. It’s the same initial, but I like to say I’m a daily financial advocate for my clients.
John Ray: [00:10:08] Yeah, I mean, it’s not — this is a dangerous analogy because it’s not that people are guilty of anything, but like you’re advocating for someone in court, right? I mean, you’re arguing on their behalf.
Samantha McElhaney: [00:10:24] I need to be able to tell their story and their why. Yeah. So that means I have to ask some critical questions. I need everybody to be honest on both sides. It goes both ways. That’s one of my biggest pet peeves is when a banker won’t honestly tell somebody why or why not they can do something. And don’t blame the bank. You know, I am the bank.
From day one since I was hired as a teller, I’m not going to sit there and go, well, someone upstairs told me, I can’t do this. No, we just can’t do it. I can’t do it. It’s my responsibility. I am the bank no matter where I am, whether it’s Monday through Friday during business hours or it’s a Saturday when I’m inside of a grocery store, if they recognize me as the banker. Yeah, I represent the bank 24/7.
John Ray: [00:11:10] Now, that’s interesting because as we talked, as I led this off, there are policies. You have no control over prices. You have no control over marketing that you have no control over. So how do you absorb the idea that you are the bank, and you may be advocating for things that or representing things that you don’t even actually agree with?
Samantha McElhaney: [00:11:39] That’s a great question because I’m definitely a why person. I need to understand the why we’re doing it the way that we’re doing it. And I’ve always been the person, especially in a meeting, to ask the question. But if you can give me some answers to the question when I ask it, don’t dance around it.
And I’ve luckily worked for companies who or individuals in the company from a management perspective who’ve always been open and willing to give me that answer so that I can be their biggest cheerleader or biggest representative out in the community.
And they know that I will voice that answer out in the most professional way possible. They’ll give me that to arm myself and be that advocate for the company and to help the clients. So to calm down anything or to lift up anything and be a positive voice.
So even though I might not have had any authority per se to influence a price or to change a product, they have always given me what I’ve needed so that I could let people know this is how we’re going to do it and this is how we’re going to be your best advocate and this is how we’re going to create a portfolio for you so that you can do your day to day business. And I can take care of your financials. And you won’t have to worry about those things on a regular basis.
And it’s been pretty successful. I have been called on the carpet, but when I’ve been called on the carpet, I have no problem saying, you’re absolutely right, let me fix this.
John Ray: [00:13:14] Well, give an example of that. I mean, you don’t have to mention the details of individuals or whatever but talk about just giving an example of that being called on the carpet.
Samantha McElhaney: [00:13:25] Well, I mean, for instance, when we set something up from an implementation standpoint, when a customer gets onboarded at any institution I’ve ever worked at, you tell people that it’s going to take a certain amount of time to get things implemented, set up, and we ask them to keep their old accounts open and new accounts, and cash is going to come in, cash is going to go out. And there shouldn’t be flaws or there shouldn’t be any issues.
But things do happen, unfortunately, out there. We’ve got scammers and we’ve got people taking things out of mailboxes and items of that nature. And so fraud, for instance, does occur. When that situation happens, we try our best in the banking world to prevent it from happening or to catch it before it happens to the client.
When it does happen, customers, you know, they get fearful. They get scared. They get emotional. And so you have to listen to the customers. You have to acknowledge their fear. You have to help them understand, yes, we are going to protect you and that we’re sorry it happened. We thought we had all the instruments in place to prevent it from happening.
Unfortunately, it didn’t stop it. We are going to fix this. We’re going to give you your money back. We’re going to do all the investigation. Just give us the time to do it. But first and foremost, let us give you your money back. Okay. We’ll do this right here, right there for you. So we can’t always catch it, but we try to do our best job possible. And we are truly sorry that it happened.
John Ray: [00:15:06] Yeah, yeah, sure. And you don’t control a lot of the aspects of the quality of your product.
Samantha McElhaney: [00:15:15] I wish but no.
John Ray: [00:15:18] I mean, again, unlike those of our listeners who are solo, small professional services firms, they control the quality of their product. You have a problem with that?
Samantha McElhaney: [00:15:32] We have vendors, of course. We buy products from other people and they promise us things as well. Yeah. But when you work with good vendor partners who will listen to us and gather feedback. For instance in online banking, it’s imperative that you not only are compatible with HP computers, but you’re compatible with Mac computers. And not all online banking products were necessarily compatible for a while with Mac computers. So it was frustrating.
John Ray: [00:16:01] Really.
Samantha McElhaney: [00:16:02] It was frustrating for some customers. And they wouldn’t go to technology because a lot of people converted to Macs early on.
John Ray: [00:16:08] Right. And they’re not leaving.
Samantha McElhaney: [00:16:11] They’re not going to leave it. Once you’re a Mac customer, you won’t go back to an HP. So it was very imperative early on to find out who would and who would not work with Mac computers for customers.
And when vendors said they would and it didn’t work, you had to find out the why and explain it and get it fixed. So that’s just one example that always sticks out in my head. And when I’ve worked for an institution, it’s one of the first questions I ask because a lot of your savvy business entrepreneurs all have the Apple products now.
John Ray: [00:16:47] Yes. Yeah, for sure. Let’s talk about relationships. Now, one of the things I find interesting is that banks may be large, they may be small, they may be mega banks, but every one of them, I think they must have the same marketing people because they all talk about their importance of relationships, right?
Samantha McElhaney: [00:17:12] Yes.
John Ray: [00:17:13] So there’s no difference in the marketing piece of it when you get to know the bank and you get to know their people. Like you, then only then do you know the difference, right?
Samantha McElhaney: [00:17:27] Right.
John Ray: [00:17:27] Right. So talk about, I guess the reality versus the marketing, if you will, of building relationships and how you do it, because it’s a one-on-one thing. And you said that well, if I can just add. You talked about how it’s about people and it’s not about the institution which the executive suite, probably, they’re running in circles hearing that maybe sometimes, depending on the bank. A great bank knows that, right? But talk about that, just the difference between how you operate on the ground in building relationships versus the marketing speak.
Samantha McElhaney: [00:18:19] Yeah. I get leery when someone claims they’re all things to all of their customers. I can do everything. And then they hand out A 1-800 number to their clients. That’s one of the reasons why I am where I am today because we don’t give out a 1-800 number and we also strive to pick up the phone.
In fact, our motto is we will pick up the phone in three rings. So if I’m unavailable because I’m on the phone, let’s say with you, John, my phone rolls to the next person in line, human being, in line to pick up the phone, who is my colleague and teammate. And that’s not a marketing thing or a marketing department. That’s us as a team. That’s different.
John Ray: [00:19:09] Yeah. That’s a process thing, right?
Samantha McElhaney: [00:19:12] Yeah.
John Ray: [00:19:12] Yeah.
Samantha McElhaney: [00:19:13] Yeah, exactly.
John Ray: [00:19:13] It has nothing to do with marketing.
Samantha McElhaney: [00:19:14] No.
John Ray: [00:19:14] Right.
Samantha McElhaney: [00:19:15] And it’s something that we all almost like sign an oath or an agreement with previous and it’s just not in banks, it’s in other companies.
John Ray: [00:19:28] Oh, sure. Yeah.
Samantha McElhaney: [00:19:29] Yeah. Not to be named, but companies, they’ll sit there and switch you over six different times just to talk to someone to get something answered. I’m experiencing this right now in customer service with a vendor that I’ve used for years trying to get it resolved, and it’s resulted in me having to tweet to get an answer.
John Ray: [00:19:52] Oh, lovely.
Samantha McElhaney: [00:19:53] Yeah. And it’s really sad that you have to go to those extremes to get somebody to reply after you’ve called and after you’ve sent emails. And it takes social media now to get somebody to respond to something that could have been resolved really quickly with the first phone call that you made. And the promise that the person said, okay, this will be resolved before the end of the business day.
Lip service is not cheap. If people will just say what they say and do what they say and mean what they say and follow through with what they say, the world would probably be a different place and people would probably feel a lot better about what they’re hearing and about what they’re being promised. And would probably have a higher customer service scores and higher follow through and have happier shopping experiences for that matter.
You can spend a gazillion dollars on your marketing and on your appearance and on your brand and on your logo. But at the end of the day, it’s all about the people who are providing it. And if those people don’t believe in the marketing and the promos and everything, it doesn’t matter. So I’d rather you invest in the people who are providing the service than the color and the brand and everything else that doesn’t matter.
John Ray: [00:21:19] Right. Right.
Samantha McElhaney: [00:21:21] I hope that answered your question.
John Ray: [00:21:22] No, no, it did. But I want to dig a little deeper into your current institution, Pinnacle Financial Partners. So first of all, you hear the name and you think that sounds like an investment bank or something.
Samantha McElhaney: [00:21:40] Yeah, it does. I have been asked, you got your license.
John Ray: [00:21:43] Right. Right. Where’s the bank in there? So what does the name signify and why is it that you’re — what is it about Pinnacle that helps you do what you do?
Samantha McElhaney: [00:21:56] Okay. When I lived in Nashville, because that’s where my children were born, Pinnacle started in 2000. And it was born out of mergers of banks that got to be pretty large. That bank, which is now the largest bank in Nashville and the second largest bank in Tennessee, just started out differently. It focuses on its employees being happy. The employees own stock in the bank. And the employees, if they’re happy, they will provide amazing customer service. So employees come first. Therefore, clients get treated extremely well.
In 2020, the announcement was made that they were here in Atlanta, and I read it in the newspaper, and I was like, whoa, this is a big news, because Pinnacle believes in raving fans. Pinnacle believes in taking care of clients, taking care of employees.
And Pinnacle doesn’t spend a lot of money on marketing. So you didn’t see the big billboards and commercials about them coming to town like you have with other institutions in the past. They also don’t post on LinkedIn. They don’t post on Indeed. They don’t have job postings or career fairs or anything of that nature.
You have to, at minimum, have at least 15 years of experience in your position. So our tellers, down to our tellers, they all have been in those positions or have banking experience of at least 15 years or more. So it’s just a different type of institution. We also call ourselves a firm. So you’ll hear us talk about ourselves as we are a firm.
John Ray: [00:23:40] Why?
Samantha McElhaney: [00:23:41] Because we’re about relationships. And we believe firms build relationships and banks do transactions. And so we’re advisors, not bankers. And so we advise clients on everything when it comes to their business and their personal financial matters and build those relationships.
We’re not going to do a transaction for you. We look at everything and we help introduce you to people that can help you with every idea and every situation. And it may not be something that we do financially for you. That may come later. So that’s what makes it different.
John Ray: [00:24:20] Yeah. Hence your title, Commercial Financial Advisor.
Samantha McElhaney: [00:24:24] Yes. And I don’t have a license.
John Ray: [00:24:25] Right, Right. That doesn’t mean you do stocks or something like that. Yeah, right. Yeah. You advise on all aspects of a business.
Samantha McElhaney: [00:24:34] Yes.
John Ray: [00:24:35] Got it. And so let’s — with Pinnacle as your backdrop, which you seem extraordinarily happy with.
Samantha McElhaney: [00:24:45] It’s my dream.
John Ray: [00:24:46] Yeah. Wow. So let’s talk about your approach to relationship building. So how does that work for you? You’re connected with someone. It’s a loose connection. How do you make that connection tighter so that whenever there’s an opportunity, an impetus for that individual to change banks, that they’re thinking of you?
Samantha McElhaney: [00:25:15] I mean, I never look at any introduction as being a waste or as unnecessary or as what’s the purpose of this introduction or what’s in it for me? I want to meet anybody and everybody. My mom said that when I was little that I would walk up to anybody and just introduce myself. That’s not necessarily the best thing on the planet when it comes to strangers. But she said, I had no problem meeting people.
And so I like to know people’s stories. I like to know what gets them up and gets them going in the morning. And so I want to hear about their business. I want to hear about their families. I want to hear what motivates them, what their passion is. And then I want to hear what keeps them up at night.
And again, that may not be banking. It may not be financially related. I laugh and tell the story about early on in the 2000 when I was in my career, moving here to Atlanta, one of the first companies I met here in Atlanta, the customer spent probably our first 10, if not 15 minutes, talking about and apologizing for the taste of his coffee in the meeting.
John Ray: [00:26:33] Oh, really?
Samantha McElhaney: [00:26:34] Because the coffee, he said, it’s just awful and I just — I’ve tried so many different coffee vendors. I don’t know what to do, but the coffee’s just horrible. And I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Well, come to find out, it was the water filtration system.
And so we ended up introducing him to a water filtration vendor system to put in his office. And the taste of the coffee changed, and he never talked about it again after we solved that solution and problem. So we could talk about other things like his actual business down the road.
So I like the fact that we got down to the heart of it and figured it out and introduced him to a solution. Now you say, that’s kind of weird, Sam. But no, that was something that obviously bothered him because he spent 10 to 15 minutes talking about it during our initial meeting.
So those are the kind of things I want to do is help somebody with what’s preventing them from doing what they do best, which is obviously their business.
John Ray: [00:27:36] Right. So it sounds like what I’m hearing is that you’re trying to figure out what their problems are, what is keeping them up at night, whether that has anything to do with their banking issues or not and trying to proactively bring them solutions to that.
Samantha McElhaney: [00:27:54] Yeah. And that may not in the past with all of my banks that I’ve ever worked with that may not meet my goals right now in the immediate present. But I think long term, it has helped me with not only who I work for, but who I work with, whether that’s my employer or my clients or future prospects, because I think I’m doing the right thing for everybody involved. Because that’s what they need, not necessarily what Sam needs at that particular time.
John Ray: [00:28:29] Yeah. So you work for — as good as your firm is for you, you’re still in a big public company. I mean, and public companies by definition, I mean they have quarter to quarter earnings pressures —
Samantha McElhaney: [00:28:45] For profit.
John Ray: [00:28:46] Right? They’re for profit. They’re for profit. That’s always important. But there are goals, there are budgets, there are, again, the quarter-to-quarter pressures. So what you’re talking about helping someone with their water filtration system, that doesn’t actually add to earnings per share.
Samantha McElhaney: [00:29:07] No, it helps.
John Ray: [00:29:08] For the quarter.
Samantha McElhaney: [00:29:08] It helped that company, I’m sure, but it didn’t help my company at that time.
John Ray: [00:29:12] Right. So, I mean, how do you balance these things, right? Because you’ve got to hit your targets, whatever those targets are and over whatever time frame you’re talking about, how do you balance that?
Samantha McElhaney: [00:29:30] That’s very important. I really honestly believe in a combination of if I’m out there doing the right things every single day, which is out meeting people, talking to people, asking people to do the same thing, keep their ears open, feet on the street, making the right introductions, if I’m asking them who they need to be introduced to, if that’s ongoing 365 days of the year, no matter where I am, I mean, even I take vacations.
I mean, I go to football games because my kids are at two of the best SEC schools on the planet. No offense, Georgia, but they are — you know, I’ll talk to people when I’m at those institutions. I’m always talking about businesses and opportunities and trying to make connections.
And if I’m doing that 365 days, then it always creates what I think is a pipeline. And I’m a big believer and a lady of faith. And I just truly believe that if I continue to do the right things then and I stick to my faith, then it will be provided for me because I’m walking and talking and doing what I’m supposed to do for the right people and for the people who need it. And so I just have to believe I can’t have fear. It’s going to happen and it’s going to be produced so.
John Ray: [00:31:00] Well, so what you’re describing is you’re living from a philosophy of the world is an abundant place, right?
Samantha McElhaney: [00:31:09] It should be.
John Ray: [00:31:10] That’s one way to describe it. As opposed to that the world is a fixed pie. It’s a place of scarcity. And you have to grab whatever you can grab at that moment. That’s what you’re describing. That’s the dichotomy you’re describing, right?
Samantha McElhaney: [00:31:25] I like the way you just put that because I don’t want to see people with one set amount and everybody’s beating each other up to try to get, like you said, their piece. I think there is plenty of business out there for everybody and the right amount is going to go to the right person and to the right fit.
It’s like, for instance, we’ve discussed before when someone comes up to you and says that I can make anybody and everybody, I don’t believe that. I know a lot of bankers here in Atlanta, a lot of people who are really my good friends.
And so I’m not the bank for everybody and I’m not the banker for everybody. That’s why if it’s not a right fit, I have no problem introducing you to a great banker at another institution who’s probably the right fit.
And people are like, why would you do that? Don’t you have goals? I’m like, no, it’s better to put you in the right place so that you’re with the right banker and you’re not being moved around all the time. You’re with who you need to be, the right institution, the right person so that your business can prosper. And I hope it would be paid forward in the long run.
John Ray: [00:32:31] Right. So the analogy here for, again, those of our listeners that are solo small professional services firms, they have their own firm, they’re not subject to quarter-to-quarter earnings, but if they’re trying to maintain this a philosophy like yours, you’re going to go through dips.
Samantha McElhaney: [00:32:48] Always.
John Ray: [00:32:49] Right?
Samantha McElhaney: [00:32:49] Yes.
John Ray: [00:32:50] Where that philosophy of abundance seems like it’s not working, right? So how do you sustain yourself through that?
Samantha McElhaney: [00:32:59] I mean, you’ll sit there and you’ll say, oh my gosh, there’s nothing in the books, there’s nothing in the pipeline. But if you will do the right steps every single day, get up, not mope or play martyr, if you will get out and show the activities and show that you’re actually doing the right things and continue over and over again, kind of like what Adam Grant talks about in give and take and give and give and make the introductions and do the things that you’re supposed to do, even with your coworkers and teammates, then it will eventually open up again and just flood. And you’ll be like, whoa, wait a minute, it was there all along? Why did I doubt it? It will happen and occur.
If you’re not doing the right things in the right steps. Then no, the abundance won’t happen, or the opportunities won’t happen, but you have to be consistent. I love the word consistent. My kids used to say, you all aren’t being fair. And I’m like, babies, I never claim to be fair, but I’m definitely consistent in my practices.
John Ray: [00:34:05] Yeah. We could talk a lot about fair, right?
Samantha McElhaney: [00:34:12] Yes.
John Ray: [00:34:12] Yeah, fair is something that happens in the early fall.
Samantha McElhaney: [00:34:15] In Cumming, for sure. In October, the best one.
John Ray: [00:34:18] That’s right. Yeah. Yeah. You’re mixed up on what fair is all about.
Samantha McElhaney: [00:34:22] Exactly.
John Ray: [00:34:23] Yeah. So you mentioned your personality, you’re an outgoing personality. You love to meet people. There are a lot of our listeners that wouldn’t describe themselves that way. They’re introverts.
Samantha McElhaney: [00:34:39] Yes.
John Ray: [00:34:39] And they don’t see themselves as wanting to put themselves out there the way it’s so easy for you. So give counsel to folks like that, that they want a network, and they want to develop strategic referral partner network like you have. How do they do that in a way that’s non-threatening?
Samantha McElhaney: [00:35:04] Oh, wow. Because I mean, initially when I first moved to Atlanta, where I knew nobody in 2005, I mean I was that person who would go to any and every event and splash my name all over the place because again, had no fear of doing so.
But someone who would move here in 2005 and not know anyone, you don’t know where to start, especially if you’re inside of a shell. Personally, because I do know a lot of introverts. I do, in fact, in my small group from church, our group is half extroverts and half introverts.
John Ray: [00:35:43] Oh, you all have a lot of fun.
Samantha McElhaney: [00:35:45] Oh, yeah. Because you’ve got the people who will dominate the conversation and then you’ve got the people who are just sitting there and not saying a word. And you have to get them to to come out and participate.
John Ray: [00:35:56] And they’re running silent, running deep right there. They’re the ones that come out with the really deep thoughts.
Samantha McElhaney: [00:36:00] When they finally say something, you’re like, oh my gosh, why hadn’t you talked the whole time?
John Ray: [00:36:05] Exactly.
Samantha McElhaney: [00:36:06] You’ve got to take baby steps. And it’s really both of them, extroverts and introverts. You have to take baby steps when it comes to networking and pick something that interests you, especially introverts. You have to find an organization or a group that you’re passionate about to go join and go participate in.
Because if not, networking is not going to be fun. It is going to seem boring. It’s going to seem like a checkbox. It’s going to seem like something that you’re going to want to give up on really, really quick. Like you’ll register, you’ll show up, you’ll enter the room, you’ll pick up your badge and you’ll walk out the door type scenario.
If you go to something that you enjoy or that you have a passion for, let’s say it’s a women’s organization or it’s an event that is sponsoring animal’s rights or the Humane Society or something, you’re more likely to attend that event and find maybe one person in that entire room that you could walk up to and connect with and just have a conversation with that night about the dogs or the cats in the room that you connect with or something.
And that’s one success story right there, because you met one person. And that’s one baby step. Getting there, baby step. Staying there, baby step. Meeting one person, baby step. So that’s what I would encourage the introvert to do is to find one event, one chance, go, stay, find one person, and make the connection. And then try it again.
And then once you get your feet wet and you find out it’s not really that scary, you might actually find out you might be an introvert, extrovert. And then that’s a whole other topic for another day. And those are professional trainers. They can talk to you about that term so.
John Ray: [00:38:01] Right, right. Yeah. Because we tend to put ourselves in these binary silos, right? We’re either this or that, and that’s rarely the case, right?
Samantha McElhaney: [00:38:14] Like, I’m an extrovert during working hours. But, John, when I get home, yeah, I won’t answer our phone, or I’ll go into like a rabbit hole. I need my downtime to recharge my battery.
John Ray: [00:38:28] Right. Right. Yeah, that makes perfect sense. So let’s talk about Strategic Referral Partners because as professional services providers, we all live off our network, right, and referrals. So how did you develop that? You’re known for having quite a deep network, so extensive network. So talk about how that happened for you beyond what you’ve already mentioned.
Samantha McElhaney: [00:39:04] Again, getting out and meeting a lot of people when I first moved to Atlanta. But one of the best networking groups and sets of partners I have had, and I can admit to, and we’re a really neat group. We just met yesterday for lunch, and we have since 2012.
There was a group of us that were part of an organization that paid a lot of money to be a part of that group. We went our separate ways and formed our own networking group back in 2012 because we found some commonalities with each other, and we meet over in the Cumberland area and have the first and third Tuesday of every month around lunch time.
And we protect each other. And when I say protect each other, we don’t overlap when we meet with one another. So if there’s one CPA in the group, it’s the only CPA in the group. I’m the only banker in the group, but our organization is up to 22 members. And we regularly meet with each other. We discuss opportunities with each other, customer clients with their permission, and we look out for each other.
As far as business, we all try to do business with one another. But again, we try to make introductions with one another. And this group has probably been one of the most important parts of my business since, again, we formed in 2012. And the biggest part of it is, I could say we’re honestly family.
That group of individuals, if something ever happened to any one of us, like one individual is celebrating a wedding this weekend. There’s been babies born in that group. There’s been graduations. There’s been deaths. There’s been illness. We treat each other as family. So how we treat each other is how we want to treat our clients. It’s how we want to treat anybody. So it’s a unique organization.
And so from that baseline, that’s how we treat all of our networking partners. And so anyone we meet out in the community, we try to introduce each other to those networking partners and other referral sources. And so it’s just grown and connect each other on LinkedIn and it continues to multiply. So we’ve been very blessed with one another.
John Ray: [00:41:30] We could go down a bunny trail on this. But I mean, how does someone that does not enjoy a group like that, how do they find that kind of group, right?
Samantha McElhaney: [00:41:41] Okay, it’s a great question.
John Ray: [00:41:42] Yeah. How did they judge that group, right, for its personality of giving?
Samantha McElhaney: [00:41:48] Yeah.
John Ray: [00:41:49] You know, how does that happen for them?
Samantha McElhaney: [00:41:51] No. When I worked at Fifth Third, I had employees who would ask me about that group and how did that group even form or what would you do, what would you recommend on how we start a group similar to that? And I have told individuals in the past, start with people that you like to do business with, like to have lunch with, like to break bread with and go have breakfast or lunch with those people.
That’s maybe three, four people and put together. And you all come up with a baseline. What do you all require from a set of guidelines? Are you just going to require that you all meet once a month? Are you going to require that you all make one introduction to each other once a month? And put those baselines down and hold each other accountable.
And then set it on the calendar. Are you going to meet once a month, twice a month, whatever it is? And you come together and is it just going to be the same group of people? Or are you each going to require each other bring another person the next month and see if it stays the same in size?
And if that’s comfortable, keep it that size. If you want to grow it, then do the visitation and grow it to the next size, grow it to the next size. And then if it keeps growing, decide do you want to charge fees for that or are you cool with everybody paying for their own meals, whatever you decide from a meeting standpoint.
But you can create your own group. It doesn’t have to be a national organization and nothing against the national organizations because they’re fantastic. I’m a part of one. I only do two networking groups and one of them happens to be a national organization.
But you can create your own group. You just have to make sure the people that you’re in and working with and that kind of group all have the same ideas and philosophies in play. And the people that you invite clearly understand what those philosophies are.
So if I’m bringing you as a visitor and we introduce our clients to each other, make sure the person you’re bringing, hey, John, when you come and meet my friends, we’re going to — you know, I’m introducing you to my friends that I do business with, they’re going to ask you, who do you want to meet, who are my clients, and who are you willing to, down the road, introduce me to if my services are needed by your clients?
You know, you’ve got to be very clear about those expectations. And if you can’t be and you’re not comfortable with that, then this might not be the right group for you.
John Ray: [00:44:23] Sure. Sure. Well, let’s talk about a success story or two. You know, obviously we’re not going to mention names or affiliations, but where this relationship first approach, let me hear your problems and see if I can solve them approach has worked out for you over the longer haul.
Samantha McElhaney: [00:44:54] It’s always varied in size. I’ve had individuals come to me and they’ve been start-up companies.So I can think of one right now. Three individuals were working for a very large corporation in a field of staffing. And they wanted to leave their larger corporation and start their own smaller company.
They did not want to do SBA lending. And we basically had to sit down and look at their business plan. Everything that an SBA lender would look at and see if the plan made sense from us on a conventional standpoint to take care of them and give them the lending that they needed to get the project off the ground, which would include not only funding to start the organization, working capital for payroll for fixed needs to hire individuals, but also for the lease that they needed because they wanted to have a retail outlet. They wanted to have furniture fixtures and equipment, desks, everything of that nature. They wanted to appear like, in my opinion, like a mini little Rognstad.
Everything financially looked great, but it was going to be really dependent upon those three individuals and the strength of those three individuals. Again, they did not want to lock up their homes. They did not want to lock up 401Ks. They basically wanted an unsecured loan. And it took —
John Ray: [00:46:33] Yeah, because this business does not have any assets.
Samantha McElhaney: [00:46:35] Nothing.
John Ray: [00:46:36] Other than the furniture.
Samantha McElhaney: [00:46:37] That they were going to buy.
John Ray: [00:46:39] Right. At your financing, right?
Samantha McElhaney: [00:46:41] That they were going to purchase. And that would not really be something that a bank would want to take back in the event that it didn’t work out. So we really had to look at the deal, the projections of the deal, the history of the individuals, how they handled their personal finances, resumes, letters of recommendation. I mean, we really had to look outside the box to figure out if this was something that we wanted to do and take a chance on.
And with senior management, I mean higher levels of credit authority, everything, interviews of the three potential owners, again, the letters of people who believed in them, faith in them, things of that nature. I mean, we really went outside what’s normal parameters, especially for a large bank and made this deal happen.
And we did it on a very short term basis. So they had rather large payments in the very beginning. So they were going to have to really work and get contracts, get clients on board, make accelerated payments for this to happen. And the company did a really nice job to the point where even by year two, they were acquired.
John Ray: [00:47:58] Oh, wow.
Samantha McElhaney: [00:47:59] Yeah. Someone acquired them really quick so they could pay us back which was nice. And they’ve all gone their separate ways. And one individual right now is back in corporate America and is doing a fantastic job. Never thought they would go back into corporate America, but they are.
But it’s just a nice little story how we kind of made the exception and went outside the box, and didn’t go down the traditional path because, yes, it probably could have been done SBA, but it would have locked everything up. And a lot of customers don’t necessarily want to do that. Yeah.
Well, that was that one sticks in my head because it was just the idea of, yes, we don’t always have to put every customer inside a square box. We can kind of make it wavy, curvy, triangular, whatever shape you want to come up with.
John Ray: [00:48:53] Yeah. That’s great. Sam McElhaney, folks with Pinnacle Financial Partners. Sam, just one more question and then we’ll kind of bring it down to a close. But just offer a takeaway, just one takeaway that our listeners that are out there with their own firms can take away too, as they think about success for their practice, for their lives. What advice would you give?
Samantha McElhaney: [00:49:31] You have to — it’s going to probably sound like two pieces, so I apologize upfront for that. But first and foremost, John, really stick to your morals, stick to your values, who you are, and don’t let social media or anybody, anyone else change who you are. Because at the end of the day, people will see through that. They’ll see through anything that’s not genuine.
And I hope I’ve done that over the years. I hope people who have met me since, for instance, moving to Atlanta or even those who have known me since I first started as a teller, they will say this is the same person who started banking when she was 18, and now I’m 48. So they will be like, wow, she’s not changed. She can sometimes be a handful, but she also is very passionate, and she will fight and she will be loyal, and she will represent me and take care of me and will be honest with me.
But also, for business owners, be transparent. That’s my word for 2023. I always pick a word and I get it imprinted on a necklace. And I try to wear it on Fridays. And this year’s word is transparent.
And that’s, again, a word that I think people need to know is not a negative. It’s a very positive word. If you’re transparent, I think people will appreciate what you have to give them because there’s no smoke in mirrors. It’s you just being your most authentic and vulnerable self and it goes along with sticking to your values. So that’s why I picked 2023 and I think it’s coming in very relevant right now, especially with the banking industry and what we’re going through.
John Ray: [00:51:28] Yeah, for sure. For sure. That’s an entirely different conversation.
Samantha McElhaney: [00:51:34] Sorry, I didn’t want to open up that worm.
John Ray: [00:51:36] No, we won’t go down that trail, but maybe another time. Well, Sam McElhaney, this has been fantastic. Thank you so much for taking the time to have this conversation. I’m sure there are folks that might want to be in touch, so let’s tell them how they can contact you.
Samantha McElhaney: [00:51:54] Yeah. I am Sam McElhaney. Again, with Pinnacle Financial Partners. My office is over in the Riverwood area, but we have two other locations. One in Avalon and one in Buckhead. You can reach me at 678-524-7133. The same cell number I’ve had since I moved here to Atlanta. And my email address is Sam.McElhaney, that’s M-C-E-L-H-A-N-E-Y@P as in Paul, N as in Nancy, P as in Paul.com.
John Ray: [00:52:30] And they can find you on LinkedIn because you’re very active there.
Samantha McElhaney: [00:52:33] Yes, I try to be. Every morning, one of the first things I do.
John Ray: [00:52:36] And I think you’re the only Samantha McElhaney on LinkedIn. I think you are, right?
Samantha McElhaney: [00:52:40] Some people confuse me with another McElhaney or they ask if we’re sisters and we’re not related, but she’s one of my favorite individuals on the planet, so I like her a lot.
John Ray: [00:52:52] Okay. So connect with both of them.
Samantha McElhaney: [00:52:54] Yes. And you’ll get one of us. I’m sure she knows who I’m talking about.
John Ray: [00:52:58] There you go. Okay. Terrific. Sam McElhaney, Pinnacle Financial Partners. Thanks again so much for our talk.
Samantha McElhaney: [00:53:05] Thanks, John for having me.
John Ray: [00:53:06] Yeah, it’s been a lot of fun. Hey, folks, just a quick reminder is as we look ahead to the rest of 2023, if you are a current listener, subscriber to this podcast, thank you. Thank you for your support. We’re grateful for you.
And if you’re not, you can go to pricevaluejourney.com to find our show archive and check that out and see if you like the series enough to want to subscribe. And if you do, you can do that on your favorite podcast app. So we thank you in advance if you decide to do that.
If you go to pricevaluejourney.com, you can also get a link to receive updates on my upcoming book that will be released later this year. It’s called The Price and Value Journey, Raising Your Confidence, Your Value and Your Prices Using the Generosity Mindset Method. If you want to know more about that book, you can sign up for updates there and you can also email me directly too, if you’d like, John@JohnRay.co. Thank you again for joining me on The Price and Value Journey.
About The Price and Value Journey
The title of this show describes the journey all professional services providers are on: building a services practice by seeking to convince the world of the value we offer, helping clients achieve the outcomes they desire, and trying to do all that at pricing which reflects the value we deliver.
If you feel like you’re working too hard for too little money in your solo or small firm practice, this show is for you. Even if you’re reasonably happy with your practice, you’ll hear ways to improve both your bottom line as well as the mindset you bring to your business.
John Ray, Host of The Price and Value Journey
John Ray is the host of The Price and Value Journey.
John owns Ray Business Advisors, a business advisory practice. John’s services include advising solopreneur and small professional services firms on their pricing. John is passionate about the power of pricing for business owners, as changing pricing is the fastest way to change the profitability of a business. His clients are professionals who are selling their “grey matter,” such as attorneys, CPAs, accountants and bookkeepers, consultants, marketing professionals, and other professional services practitioners.
In his other business, John is a Studio Owner, Producer, and Show Host with Business RadioX®, and works with business owners who want to do their own podcast. As a veteran B2B services provider, John’s special sauce is coaching B2B professionals to use a podcast to build relationships in a non-salesy way which translate into revenue.
John is the host of North Fulton Business Radio, Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Radio, Alpharetta Tech Talk, and Business Leaders Radio. house shows which feature a wide range of business leaders and companies. John has hosted and/or produced over 2,000 podcast episodes.
Coming in 2023: A New Book!
John’s working on a book that will be released in 2023: The Price and Value Journey: Raise Your Confidence, Your Value, and Your Prices Using The Generosity Mindset Method. The book covers topics like value and adopting a mindset of value, pricing your services more effectively, proposals, and essential elements of growing your business. For more information or to sign up to receive updates on the book release, go to pricevaluejourney.com.